Roland Garros 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

The French is the epicurean’s tournament, where the kiosks feature crepes filled with apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar, and ice cream bars favored with Grand Marnier; where hot dogs doze in light, crisp rolls that resemble sleeping bags; where these and other specialities evolved through centuries of respectful doting on the sensitive receptacle that for some peoples is a mere stomach.

The French tournament site, like those of Wimbledon and the US Open, is located just far enough outside the city to achieve a slumberous, almost pastoral quality. The Stade Roland Garros borders the Bois de Boulogne, the rambling park that contains the famed Longchamp Race Course and the Racing Club de France. The stadium and its grounds, named after a World War I aviator killed in action, were constructed in 1927 primarly for the defense of the Davis Cup.

Despite the French preoccupation with style, there is a monotonous, almost martial quality to Roland Garros. Yet this grim undertone strikes a symbolic note, for the French is the most grueling tournament in the world. The Italian assaults the nerves, Wimbledon tests the spirit, and the US Open challenges the will. The French attacks the body and often defeats a player through sheer exhaustion. Matches routinely last four hours on the slow clay, and despite the draw of 128, five-set matches are the rule from the start. Tennis at the French is trench warfare; lobs are lifted like deadly mortars, except they almost always come back. Battles that commence while the idle are still taking croissants and café au lait on the the Boulevard Saint-Germain last long into the dusk. As late as nine in the evening, there is still enough light to keep the contestants engaged.

The main walkway at Roland Garros:

Roland Garros 1978

Arthur Ashe, serving and selling his way deep into the Paris underground:

Metro Porte d'Auteuil, Roland Garros 1978
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Strange things happen every day, and when you put professional athletes and tens of thousands of fans in the hot August sun in Queens, New York, weirdness is bound to follow. Here are some of the more interesting things that have happened over the years at the US Open.

Most of you still remember the 2009 US Open when Serena Williams lost her cool. She was playing Kim Clijsters in the semi-final. The linesman foot-faulted Serena on her second serve. Serena then let loose one of the most shocking rants in the history of professional tennis (giving many spectators fearsome flashbacks of John McEnroe). Apparently Serena said, “If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat.” The linesman told the chair umpire who called the tournament referee. A disgraced Serena lost a point and lost the match.

oh serena

Tennis isn’t usually thought of as a dangerous sport. But, in 1983, 70-year old linesman Dick Wertheim was fatally injured. Stefan Edberg was playing Patrick McEnroe. Edberg’s serve sent a speeding ball straight into Wertheim’s groin. Wertheim fell, hitting his head on the hard court and fracturing his skull. He died from blunt cranial trauma, a direct result of his injury. Edberg, only seventeen at the time, went on to win six Grand Slams.

At the 1979 US Open John McEnroe was playing Ilie Nastase. It was the fourth set. McEnroe was serving. Nastase held up his hand to signal that he wasn’t ready. McEnroe, never known for his patience, served anyway and the umpire gave him the point. Natase started complaining, 10,000 yelling fans joined him. Natase wouldn’t shut up and was docked the game. The crowd went crazy. People started throwing stuff onto the court (mostly trash). The cops were called to restore order. Seventeen minutes later Nastase was asked to resume the game. The one-minute service time period went by and still he refused. Unsurprisingly, he was disqualified. The crowd was still going nuts; fearing an all-out riot, the umpire was replaced and the match was continued. Not that it mattered, McEnroe won anyway.

In 1977, during the match of John McEnroe and Eddie Dibbs, a gun went off. James Reilly, a 33-year-old fan innocently watching the match in the stands, was shot in the thigh by a .38 caliber gun. Turns out Reilly was hit by a stray bullet fired from a gun outside the stadium in Queens, NY. The game was delayed while Reilly was taken out of the stands and out of the stadium. When McEnroe and Dibbs were told why the game was delayed, Dibbs is reported to have said: “I’m out of here.” To keep the players from leaving and the game from suddenly ending, the umpire lied and told them that a fan was in shock. McEnroe won the match. Afterwards, the umpire confessed that he was correct the first time, and that a fan was shot, not in shock.

The 1977 US Open must have been an exciting tournament. Renee Richards made her debut in the women’s singles, against Virginia Wade. Seventeen years earlier, at the 1960 US Open, Renee made her debut in the men’s singles, as Richard H. Raskind. After a sex-change operation, and a ruling by the New York State Superior Court, Richard/Renee was allowed to come back to the US Open, the same tournament, different division. When she played as Richard Raskind he lost his first-round match. When she played as Renee Richards, she also lost her first-round match.